Cult of Raw Materials Oud Review Single note exploration The Attar Guide

Pure Oud Oil Reviews: D-K

9th April 2022

 

 

Oud-heads and oud newbies, check out the introduction to oud here, which covers everything from how oud is distilled, its uses in oil-based and commercial perfumery, and the different markets that consume it.  Also, read my Oud Primer, consisting of Part I: The Challenges of Oud, Part II: Why Oud Smells the Way it Does and Part III: The Different Styles of Oud.

 

This section contains reviews of pure oud oils[1] only.  Review sections for oudy mukhallats[2] and oudy concentrated perfume oils[3] are forthcoming.

 

 

 

Photo by Ameen Fahmy on Unsplash

 

Dehn al Oud Cambodi (Abdul Karim Al Faransi)

Type: pure oud oil (ish)

Style or Profile: Cambodi

 

 

Dehn al Oud Cambodi does not smell like any Cambodi-style oud I have ever smelled, but it is an interesting experience, nonetheless.  Though it opens with the stale, gluey varnish notes associated with aged oud, these clear quickly to reveal a layer of bonfire ash and singed newspaper that makes me think of the childhood chore of cleaning out the fire grate.  The burned paper notes persist for a long time, infusing the oil with a not unattractive miasma of cigarette ash and grit.  There is also, briefly, the exciting whiff of a freshly-struck match.

 

Dehn al Oud Cambodi takes on a slightly berried undertone in the far drydown, but the remnants of ash, charcoal, and stale varnish hover on top, like an ill-fitting shift.  The berry notes are there to point my mind in the direction of a Cambodi oud, of course, but in truth, there is no sign of the ‘bubbling strawberry jam’ nuance denoting a good Cambodi.  Here, the fruit notes are dark and slightly dry, like raisins or prunes that have been smoked over a cottage fire and dusted with a fine layer of white ash.

 

Is it pleasant?  Well, it is more interesting than it is pleasant, at least for much of the ride.  However, in its final stages, it becomes a fine-grained glove leather imbued with traces of smoke and fruit that should please just about everyone.  Daim Blond in oil format.

 

Is it a Cambodi?  It’s a Cambodi, Jim, but not as we know it.  I doubt that any of the oud oils in the Al Faransi line-up are pure oud.  They are mostly likely a mix of commercial synthetics, natural essential oils, and other materials.  But for the most part, they smell pleasant, and some are even decently representative of the genre they are named for.  For people interested in sillage and longevity, know that this is one of the beasts in the Al Faransi stable, rivalling even Amber Ash Sheikh for sheer bolshiness.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Derek Story on Unsplash

 

Dehn al Oudh Cambodi (Ajmal)

Type: pure oud oil 

Style or Profile: Cambodi

 

 

Dehn al Oudh Cambodi is an extremely potent, rough, and animalistic oud that will scare the bejeezus out of all but the most experienced oud connoisseurs.  Not that this is an oil that connoisseurs will appreciate, mind, because this oud is a howling creature not fit to be worn outside the confines of one’s own home.  Unless you are a misanthrope, in which case knock yourself out.

 

The first blast is not bad, spitting out a fine staccato of tannins, black tea, and red berry notes.  But the oil then seems to accelerate in foulness, exploding into a garbagey accord that manages to encompass cow slurry, the sweet-n-sour sickliness of diarrhea, and pissed-upon hay.  It smells like the business end of a sheep in winter, before the shears come out.

 

It gets better, but not by much.  The far drydown, when it arrives six hours later, is leathery, sour, and a bit smoky, at which point you are once again fit for human company.  However, at this point, you might be too traumatized to care.  Ajmal produces excellent oud oil.  But this particular one is simply too animalic to please anyone but the most hardened oud consumer.

 

 

 

Dehn al Oudh Cambodi No. 1 (Abdul Samad Al Qurashi)

Type: pure oud oil

Style or Profile: Cambodi

 

 

The main difference between Dehn al Oudh No. 1 and Dehn al Oudh No. 2, below, seems to be purely a matter of aging.  The first has been aged for fifteen years before bottling, and the second for ten.  Mind you, I have my doubts about the veracity of the marketing here – it smells neither pure nor particularly aged.  The opening of both No. 1 and No. 2 is an unpleasantly harsh roar of sourness, pointing to an overly long soak of the oud wood chips prior to distillation.  Perhaps the oil has also been force-aged, i.e., the method of exposing the oil to air to deliberately oxidize and speed up the aging process. 

 

Not only do I doubt the purity and the aging, but I also doubt the Cambodi-ness.  The strong smell of fermentation in both these oils is far more characteristic of the traditional Hindi style than that of the friendlier, fruitier Cambodi.  The opening typifies everything that beginners find challenging in traditional Hindi ouds, which is to say a persistent, quasi-feral sourness that sits uncomfortably close to the smell of bile and cat piss.  It is a dusty, clinging, and somewhat depressing odor.

 

If you have the patience to ride out the first hour or so, the aroma eventually dries out to a leathery, smoky oud note that hums along quite nicely.  In these later stages, much of the unpleasant and challenging notes drop out of the picture entirely, leaving the wearer to heave a sigh of relief. It might even be – and I say this in a very small and doubtful voice, you understand – a good choice for the office or a night out.  Just be sure to apply it a good two hours before you leave the house, unless you want people rearing away from you like startled fillies.  It treads that fine line between ‘mmm, you smell interesting’ and ‘you smell, uh, interesting’, and trust me, that is a line you do not want to come down on the wrong side of. 

 

I have seen Dehn al Oudh No. 1 priced at between forty and fifty dollars for a quarter tola (roughly three milliliters) on eBay, so it is definitely one of the more reasonably-priced oud oils out there.  If you don’t mind waiting for it to go through its fugly start, then it could be an acceptable way to get your oud fix on the cheap.  I hope you all notice the equivocal wording I used in that last sentence.

 

 

 

Dehn al Oudh Cambodi No. 2 (Abdul Samad Al Qurashi)

Type: pure oud oil

Style or Profile: Cambodi

 

 

Similar to No. 1 above, but less deep and persistent on the skin.  It was supposedly aged for ten years prior to bottling, instead of fifteen. 

 

 

 

Photo by Big Dodzy on Unsplash

 

Din Dang (Feel Oud)

Type: pure oud oil

Style or Profile: mixed

 

 

Din Dang is a result of an experiment by Feel Oud to produce a wild oud oil that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.  It was achieved through blending different oud oils distilled using a variety of soaking methods (soaked wood and non-soaked wood), different still materials (copper, steel, and hybrid boilers) as well as different grades and forms of wood, such as wood chips, dust, a whole incense-grade chunk of Borneo, etc.  Taken together, the oils build up to an astonishing layered effect, with the properties of a raw, unsoaked wood chip oil hovering on top, and a darker, mustier depth developing underneath.

 

Upon application, Din Dang smells undeniably young – flinty and un-oaked, like a vin jaune just before bottling.  Vapors carrying the whisper of fruit and tea steam up to the nose, forming a bridge to the deeper, slightly darker backdrop, where wine must, spices, and a salty leather note provide ballast.

 

Din Dang becomes ever so slightly musky in the deep drydown, but overall, this is a clean, dry, light oud oil that skips the drama of funky animalics.  Two big thumbs up for a bright oud oil blend that maintains complexity throughout without losing any of its copper-penny shininess.  It is also encouraging to see such a competitively-priced oud oil on the market.  Interesting enough for oud-heads, while refined and wearable enough for beginners. I would call that a win.

 

 

 

Photo by Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash

 

Green Papua (Ensar Oud)

Type: pure oud oil

Style or Profile: Papuan oud

 

 

Green Papua is to Ensar Oud as No. 5 is to Chanel and Joy to Patou – a reputation-maker.  All market-breakers have one feature in common.  They break with previous traditions and create something new, shocking even.  When Ensar introduced Green Papua to the market in 2004, customers and fellow distillers must have thought he was crazy.  Here was an oud oil that looked and smelled nothing like other oud oils out there.  Instead of being dark brown or black, it was green, and instead of that fermented cow pat odor common to Hindi oils, it smelled clean and herbal.

 

The original Green Papua sold out quickly.  It was a revelation to customers that an oud oil could smell as bracingly green as a forest, and yet still identifiably oudy.  For many, it did away with the notion that one must suffer through an overwhelmingly barnyardy opening to get to the good stuff two hours down the line.  Green Papua was a gust of fresh air that blew the cobwebs of preconception away.

 

The sample I smelled was from a 2016 distillation of the same type of tree as the first batch, said to be similar in aroma profile and character to the original Green Papua.  Distilled from the live wood of the Gyrinops tree from Papua, the oil smells fresh, clean, and alive, not at all sour or animalic.

 

The opening is almost meaty in its fungal density, a viscous green-back smear of tree sap swiped from the bark.  As the initial surge, there comes a succession of forest notes, one pasted thickly onto the next – tree moss, followed by mint, wintergreen, ferns, and a veil of something antiseptic, like Listerine.  It is reminiscent of a freshly-split piece of green wood, so young that its sap runs milky rather than clear or sticky.

 

And yet, despite the overall greenness of the oil, it is also clearly oud.  The fresh, fougère-like notes never float off into the ether but remain tethered to the earth by that familiar weight of leather, wood, tar, and medicine – those anchoring ‘core oud’ notes.  Newcomers would do well to sample this particular oud, because it will teach their nose that real oud oil can smell like clover, green wood, and pine sap just as much as it can smell like wood rot and animal hide.   A cleansing, spiritual oud oil that lends itself particularly well to meditation.

 

 

 

Hind (Al Shareef Oudh)

Type: pure oud oil

Style or Profile: Hindi

 

 

Hind is an unusual oil for its genre, because while it is most certainly a little pungent up top, there is a sweet fruitiness here that one associates more with Cambodi-style oils than the traditional Hindi.  The opening notes smell like layers of sweet, compacted hay that have rotted a little under the steamy moisture underneath.  The hay and dark, syrupy fruit hit the nose first.  Together, these aromas add up to something a little more perfumey than a regular Hindi oil – the withered peach of a Mitsouko (Guerlain) or a Femme (Rochas), perhaps, grafted on top of wood rot.

 

In terms of accessibility and friendliness, I feel comfortable classifying Hind as a mid-level entry point to the Hindi genre.  While it is certainly reminiscent of the lively warmth of pack animals, it does not smell as deeply fermented as some in the genre.  Tending more towards sweet hay, fruit, and leather than to the more austere barn, spice, and smoke notes of the Hindi style, Hind will satisfy those looking for the depth of an Indian oil but without the overwhelming funk that comes hand in hand with a long soak.  On the other hand, it is just challenging enough to stave off boredom in those experienced with Hindi-style oils.   

 

 

 

Photo by Rafael Cisneros Méndez on Unsplash

 

Hindi Classic (Kyara Zen)

Type: pure oud oil

Style or Profile: Hindi

 

 

Kyara Zen itself is not a distiller.  However, the company is based in Singapore and has contact with many local oud oil producers and distillers throughout the Far East and has therefore adopted the role of curator.  What Kyara Zen offers the market is the benefit of the good taste – a careful selection of oils representative of a terroir or style.  Each oil selected by KZ to represent a style or terroir may be viewed as a ‘classic’ in the sense that they are the bellwethers of their category.

 

Kyara Zen’s Hindi Classic is a robust, full-bodied Hindi oil that will appeal to fans of this noble style.  It is heavily animalic to start with, exploding in a miasma of deep barnyardy flavors – fermenting straw, wet hay, and warm billy goats huddled together in a stall.  However, the funk is deep and smooth, with no shriekingly-sour high notes to bother the nose. In other words, it is all about the bass, ‘bout the bass, no treble.

 

Hindi Classic is unusual in that it sustains this barny tenor for much longer than expected, taking it far past the point where other blends will have already mellowed into spicy leather or smoky woods.  I find this to be true of most KZ oud oils and mukhallats.  The small team at KZ has a natural talent for identifying oils that extend the more volatile notes deep down through the structure, providing for a very smooth, robust, and integrated experience.

 

Eventually, the potent aura of funk loosens up a notch, and settles into a deeply spiced leather aroma that reminds me of saddles taken off a hot horse.  I should also mention that it is a tremendously powerful and long-lasting oud experience, providing that rare thing in the world of oud, i.e., value for money.

 

 

 

 

Photo by Tina Witherspoon on Unsplash

 

Hindi Gengaridai (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)

Type: pure oud oil

Style or Profile: Hindi

 

 

Picture a chunk of bleu cheese, dry and leathery at the edges – perhaps it has been outside the fridge for a few days. Now microwave it on high to set it running across the plate.  Now imagine that plate suspended on a metal grid above a packed stall of wet yaks, steaming in their own piss-soaked fur.  There.  You have smelled all the organic, cheesy funk of Hindi Gengaridai.

 

Almost hilariously animalic, Hindi Gengaridai is the kind of thing that will have oud novices visualizing a horde of unwashed, hairy Vikings spilling over a hill towards a village with a bit of raping and pillaging on their minds.  But get past the fecal richness and wet fur of the opening (if you can), and your nose begins to pick up subtle hints of spicy red leather, musk, and dry hay that has been used for the animals’ bedding.  While Hindi Gengaridai is never entirely clean, most of the funk eventually evaporates from the core, allowing the other notes to dry out in the sun and become entirely more manageable.

 

Although common sense dictates that Hindi Gengaridai might not be the best introduction to oud for a learner, I think it actually conveys two important lessons to beginners.  First of all, that this is the classic Hindi profile – a wave of sour fermentation or fecal aroma, followed quite quickly by austere leathery notes, dry hay, and spice.  Second, that Hindi oils might seem unfriendly or inaccessible at first but reveal themselves later to be weirdly addictive and habit-forming.

 

 

 

Photo by blackieshoot on Unsplash

 

Hirta (Agar Aura)

Type: pure oud oil

Style or Profile: Malaysian (Hirta, or Candan agarwood)

 

 

Hirta has won my heart with its sweet, nutty quality, and non-linear development.  Distilled from the A. Hirta species of the Aquilaria in Malaysia, where it is also known as Candan agarwood, hirta oil is highly prized among Kuwaitis in particular for its smooth, rounded honey tones.

 

Hirta has wonderful topnotes that can only be described as a crystal-clear floral honey, into which has been stirred a damp, mealy nutmeat.  Imagine a bowl of dark brown Italian chestnut flour moistened with honey, the paste enlivened with the fiery heat of crushed black pepper, the basso fundo warmth of cinnamon, and the cool, green soapiness of cardamom.  The spice element is subtle, but noticeable.

 

Hirta makes me think of a medieval kitchen full of dense treats such as panforte, pain d’épices, and chestnut flour, not because it is sweet (it isn’t, particularly) but because of the soft roundness of texture that seems to coat back of your tongue.  Another thing that I appreciate is the lack of any off-putting, sour barnyard flavors that might otherwise disturb the sweet completeness of this oil.

 

Candan agarwood is often said to be powerful in terms of sillage, but I find Hirta to be soft and non-obtrusive.  It hums away quietly on the skin, all honey, cinnamon, and gentle oudiness, merging with the scent of one’s own skin to produce a wonderfully intimate, musky sweetness that will keep people guessing whether it is your skin that smells that good or if you are wearing something.  Two very big thumbs up. 

 

 

 

Hudhayl (Al Shareef Oudh)

Type: pure oud oil

Style or Profile: Hindi

 

 

Hudhayl is a Hindi-style oil but deviates in a number of interesting ways from the aroma profile of most Hindi oils.  It is lightly barnyardy in the opening, but its hay and leather notes are creamy rather than sharp.  It smells gentle and almost sweet, like a mildly vaporous shoe polish swiped back and forth over a leather shoe, or Devonshire cream poured over warm, damp hay.  There is the secondary funk of animals who have lain on the hay all night but have been moved outside now, leaving only that warm, chocolate-damp scent of their musk in the air.

 

After this startling opening of vaporous hay and varnish, a wave of syrupy, fermented red berries pushes its way to the fore, subtly sweetening the more agricultural aromas and even briefly mimicking the fruitiness of Cambodi oud.  Absent the roaring spice and smoke of a traditional Hindi, only a hint of warm, sour fermentation, leather, and hay points to the fact that Hudhayl is a Hindi.

 

But that description addresses only the basic aroma profile of Hudhayl – what of its character?  There, Hudhayl reveals itself to be a true Hindi, with all the hauteur the Emirati Arabs have associated with the Hindi profile since the 1970s.  This refined, creamy hay-like leather smell is exactly how I would like to imagine the first Assamese oud oils smelled like before the tediousness of the long, sour soak was introduced.  Not dirty or barny, not reeking with animal hide, and with only a discreet hint of fermentation.  Hudhayl is the Hindi oil I would recommend for beginners, if only to break their heart when they learn that this level of gentleness doesn’t come as standard. 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Erik-Jan Leusink on Unsplash

 

Indah Banga Central Kali Micro (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)

Type: pure oud oil

Style or Profile: Hindi mixed with Borneo characteristics

 

 

Of the Rising Phoenix Perfumery pure oud oils, Indah Banga Central Kali Micro is one of my favorites.  It smells like dusky hay, harvest time, wheat, gold and green flowers, herbs, and the pleasantly dusty ephemera of long-disused farm outhouses.

 

At first, the animalic notes shimmer brightly enough to give pause – there is the distinct tang of soiled hay and the elephant stalls at a circus.  Christ, you think.  Hold on a minute now.  But these notes die back quickly, revealing a marvelously unsweet but rich hay accord.  Soon, the golden hay is joined by the scent of old wood, meadow flowers, sweet resin, and minerals, notes which lend Indah Banga Central Kali Micro a sense of faded grandeur, like an abandoned country manor beginning to fray at the seams.

 

The listing for this oil had disappeared from the site at the time of writing (probably because it was sold out or in the process of being restocked), but some information can still be gleaned from the long name.  Indah Banga indicates a Hindi-style oud oil, possibly out of Assam or even Bangladesh.  This would explain the dry hay notes and initial wave of barnyard furriness.

 

But Central Kali is a name that indicates a Kalimantan oud, from the island of Borneo, which has a uniquely clean, green, and sparkling character.  Micro points towards the use of microcarpa oud wood, a rare Aquilaria species that grows almost exclusively on the island of Borneo, in the Western side of the island.  Microcarpa might explain the faintly golden floral tone to the oil that flits in and out of the dusky hay.

 

Amateur detective work aside, this is an unusual and satisfying oud oil that swaps out most of the usual spice, leather, and fermentation notes associated with oud oil for the uniquely green and gold goodness of a late summer harvest.  If you love Sova (Slumberhouse) for its rustic take on hay, then Indah Banga Central Kali Micro might be considered its drier, less boozy counterpart in the world of pure oud.  

 

 

 

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

 

Jing Shen Lu (Ensar Oud)

Type: pure oud oil

Style or Profile: Thai with some Vietnamese and Borneo characteristics

 

 

To my nose, Jing Shen Lu is perhaps the most surprising oud oil in the Ensar Oud stable, because it does not smell like oud oil at all and yet clearly is oud oil.  I am not making any sense, even to myself, but please, give me a moment to explain myself! 

 

When I first smelled Jing Shen Lu, I thought I had gotten the vial mixed up with a pile of samples of raw materials I am also studying, such as poplar absolute, champaca, honeysuckle, narcissus, kewra, and white lotus.  That is to say, Jing Shen Lu smells very much like a swirl of different floral and herbal absolutes, tending towards the minty, sweet, and green-succulent side of things.

 

There is also a solvent-like vaporousness to the aroma that reminds me strongly of Ensar’s Borneo 2000.  There is a very similar high-toned fruitiness to the aroma, like the heady fumes that come off a glass of grappa, producing an almost hallucinogenic effect on the senses.  Almost like alcohol esters from the wood itself, this oil emits a piercing note that has a physical, tightening effect on my scalp and my jaw.  But this in itself is a clue to the savory, umami-like quality of oud itself.  It is also the first indication (to my nose) that this is not some other essential oil, but the oud itself.  No other essential oil has this umami, jaw-tightening property.

 

In his description, Ensar mentions green tea, and I can see that, as long as we are talking about that toothsome ‘brown basmati rice’ aspect present in some green tea.  There is a very smooth, nutty texture to the green tea that makes it more substantial than the usual citrusy or tannic characteristics, and to a certain extent, it reminds me of the pearlescent, chewy green tea of Ormonde Jayne’s Champaca.

 

However, past this initial blaze of green flowers, mint, and tea, the core of this oil is very oudy in character, developing a rich, plummy ‘Port wine’ sourness that makes me wonder how I could ever have mistaken this for anything other than an oud.  There is a very pleasant umeboshi undertone here – salty, sour, chewy plum smeared onto a thin piece of brown quinoa toast.  Jing Shen Lu is a delicate oud oil with an unusual Japanese silk-screen character. 

 

 

 

Photo by Aida L on Unsplash

 

Kambodi 1976 (Ensar Oud)

Type: pure oud oil

Style or Profile: Cambodi (original, not just  style)

 

 

I was fortunate enough to be able to test a small sample of an original Cambodi oud oil from 1976, when the wild trees of Cambodia were still standing and being harvested for their special oil.  Soon after this oil was produced, the demand for Cambodi oud oil coupled with over-harvesting and lack of foresight by the Cambodi authorities meant that all the original trees were wiped out.

 

The popularity of this style of oud oil – juicy, jammy, fruit, no animalic overtones – meant that producers started making ‘Cambodi-style’ oud oils that mimicked the characteristics of the original oil through a combination of aging and oxidization.  New Aquilaria trees were also planted in Cambodia, of course, and these still produce excellent oud oil.  However, oud oil produced by these newer trees is not as complex as oil from the older trees and doesn’t share precisely the same aroma profile.

 

Any original Cambodi oud oil from the seventies that still exists is in private collector hands and rarely if ever parted with.  The last original Cambodi oils for regular sale disappeared from the market around 2004.  It is useful to have a sample of the original as a baseline against which to measure later Cambodi-style ouds.  Upon application, Kambodi 1976 smells more like medicine than a perfume, which of course oud actually is – a natural antibiotic produced by the tree to heal itself against the marauding forces of an external infection.

 

The ‘hospital corridors’ twinge of ointment and antiseptic fluid passes relatively quickly, leading the nose into a deep, smooth heart of aged woods and dark, stewed fruit.  It is remarkable to me just how smooth the heart of Kambodi 1976 is, all the hard, pointed edges of the woods and berries sanded away with time to produce a perfectly round, glossy appearance.  The woods smell like an old cedar chest that once held damsons and figs, but where the fruit has long since disappeared into the grain of the wood, leaving a ghostly presence of its dark, raisin-like fruit, a patina that glimmers darkly.  The aroma calls to mind a good aged port.

 

As Kambodi 1976 evolves, it develops a withered leather note that carries in it the breath of plum or peach skin.  The fruit nuance is not tart, fresh, or even jammy.  Rather, the texture is like a pan of mealy, velvety chestnuts cooked to the point of collapse and then given a final glaze of damson juice reduced to a trickle of jet-black syrup.  Despite my reference to food and fruit, Kambodi’s sweetness is very subtle.  There is no caramel, chocolate, or vibrant berry jam in sight, just the natural sweetness of damsons and wine rubbed lovingly into the grain of old wood.  Despite the actual age of this oil – over forty years at the time of writing – there is no staleness.  It is smooth, but also lively.  In fact, it is living proof that good oud oil only gets better with age.

 

 

 

 

Photo by Hamed Hosseini on Unsplash

 

Kannam 100-Year Aged Oud (Abdul Samad Al Qurashi)

Type: pure oud oil

Style or Profile: Unknown

 

 

I realize, as I am sitting down to write this review, that there is really no accurate way for me to describe what a hundred-year old oud smells like.  The best I can do is to say that it is umami, that Japanese word for the fifth taste, one that is packed ten deep with savory, sweet, salty, and sour notes, all piled in on top of each other so that the taste buds receive a complex sensation that is part taste, part feeling.  Foods that are rich in umami, for example, are aged Parmesan cheese, aged balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, breast milk, and fine wines.  In fact, if you have ever tasted any of these things and tried to describe them to someone has hasn’t, then you will recognize the struggle to come up with accurate vocabulary.

 

Kannam 100-year old aged oud is, by a very wide margin, the most complex and umami-rich thing I have ever smelled.  I feel very privileged to have been able to experience it at all, given that the price per tola on this one is, as the Americans say, ‘above my pay grade’.  If I were rich, though, and I wasn’t depleting my kids’ trust funds too badly, I would happily cough up the $3,000 or so it costs per tola.

 

Is it  pure oud from one single distillation?  Honestly, I doubt it – this is likely to be a blend of pure oud oils from several distillations, of varying vintage, all or some of which add up to the 100 years claimed in its title.  Lawyers, don’t come for me – this is an educated guess, and entirely my own.  Still, amazing stuff.

 

The oud oil in the sample vial was so thick, black, and viscous that I had to warm it between my boobs for two hours in order to even prise the applicator wand out of the vial.  You have to dab it on, but the texture is like tar, so spreading it around gently is not an option – it sits there on your skin like you just painted it with wood varnish.

 

The initial aroma is not animalic or barnyardy in the slightest.  It is smooth and deep, but intense.  My husband said it immediately brought him back to his childhood, to a massive state-owned Yugoslav leather goods store in town he used to frequent with his father for shoes and jackets.  There was a tannery nearby, and the air in the store thus smelled of newly-tanned leather and of the chemicals used to tan the leather.  He said the oud had such an intense smell that it caused his teeth and jaw to ache, just like the leather goods store did.  This is a common reaction with umami-rich smells.

 

To me, at first, it smells of the following things: ancient furniture varnish, balsamic vinegar reduction, leather, rubber, resins, pine sap, wintergreen, and freshly-felled logs in a dripping-wet forest.  The smell is intoxicating, almost sweet, balsamic, and twenty thousand leagues deep in umami flavors.  The fumes feel radioactive, as if they occupy a physical space.  I can feel a buzz in my ears.  It is like sniffing glue or solvents.

 

As time goes on, it becomes earthier.  It takes on the damp, pleasantly moldy inflections of a good patchouli, smelling of freshly upturned soil, or of a wooden box buried for decades which, when opened, releases a stream of stale air.  As with all primitive smells (oud, patchouli, stone, forest), Kannam has the ability to be ‘not strange’ to your nose, as if somewhere in your prehistoric brain, you are fetching up an ancient memory of this ancient smell.

 

Highly recommended as a once in a lifetime thrill, if only to set your own personal barometer for complexity.  Even tiny third-of-a-gram samples of this can cost over one hundred dollars, so you have to be sure you want to travel down that particular road.

 

 

 

Kedaulatan – Malay 2013 (Imperial Oud)

Type: pure oud oil

Style or Profile: Malaysian

 

 

Immediately smoky, rich, and satisfying, Kedaulatan – Malay 2013 gives you all the benefits of the drydown of a properly aged oil without making you wade through any fecal, barnyardy, or sourly fermented topnotes to get there.

 

Kedaulatan captures the soul of oudiness itself – a smoky-sour woodiness with concentric rings of flavor, like a millennia-old tree split open to reveal its rich and varied history.  There are no topnotes.  Instead, it plunges you deep into the core of the oud and expects you to just handle your business.  It is the oud equivalent of an ancient Chesterfield sofa that swallows you up when you sit in it.  And for once, haute luxe equates to comfort, not speed.

 

Distilled using very traditional methods (no rubber rings or overly-extended soaking), this oil comes from wild trees of the A. Malaccensis species of the Aquilaria that grows in the Kelantan region of Northern Malaysia.  If anyone is not yet convinced of the difference between wild, properly aged agarwood versus artificially-inoculated plantation stock of the same species, Kedaulatan might act as a baseline.  A side-by-side test of Kedaulatan against a young oil from a plantation tree (even if it is from the same species) would immediately set you straight.  It is the difference between a thirty-year-old Barolo and a 2016 Chianti. 

 

 

 

Kinamantan (Ensar Oud)

Type: pure oud oil

Style or Profile: Borneo

 

 

Kinamantan is one of the more striking oud oils in the Ensar Oud stable.  It is a mixed woods oil done in a Borneo-style, and with certain kinam-like aspects.  If that sentence has you totally confused, then I know you’ve skipped the section of my Oud Primer that explains what each of those words actually means!  If so, shame on you – go back and read it now. 

 

The clue lies in its name.  Kinamantan is a portmanteau that blends the old name for Borneo Island, which is Kalimantan, with the word ‘kinam’, the superior grading quality of agarwood.  In essence, therefore, the name ‘Kinamantan’ is designed to tell you, at a glance, that this is a Borneo-style oud oil with some superior Kinam-like qualities.  In truth, the woods used for distillation of this oil come from several regions, not specifically Borneo, but have been distilled in such a manner so as to bring out Borneo-style characteristics.  Neither is the wood itself kinam; the word is chosen simply to convey a message of superior quality.  See how complicated the world of oud (and oud marketing) is?

 

The scent profile of the Borneo style is clean, creamy, and woody in a raw, natural way, almost as if one is walking through a thicket of freshly-felled lumber.  Sometimes, the ethereal minty freshness of Borneo oud can exude hints of white flowers, vanilla, and herbs.  It is also somewhat bitter, like a sparkling herb cordial one might take to aid digestion.

 

Most importantly, as the name of the oil suggests, Kinamantan also contains characteristics of the famous kinam, namely the highest grade of incense-quality wood that traditionally comes out of the Vietnamese jungles.  In other words, rather than being distilled from actual kinam or kyara wood (usually too rare and expensive to distill), this oil was custom-distilled to give it those noble characteristics people love so much in kinam.

 

One sniff of this oil and I am whisked away to an imaginary place where I am shut inside a room with old wooden furniture stacked one on top of another.  The room hasn’t been opened for a hundred years, so the room is saturated with the pleasantly stale scent of old wood and varnish.  The smell is clean, woody, medicinal, but also somehow sunny and easy-going.  There is a mellow patina of time here that makes this an absorbing, relaxing experience.  There is, in the background, a sweet floral breeze carrying a suggestion of fresh white flowers and herbs.  Wearing this oil, I can almost see green-grey wood turning to ether under the heat of the midday sun streaming into the room.  It is beautiful and timeless.  Is it kinam?  Is it ‘Borneo’?  Only your own nose can say.

 

 

About Me:  A two-time Jasmine Award winner for excellence in perfume journalism, I write a blog (this one!) and have authored many guides, articles, and interviews for Basenotes.  (My day-to-day work is in the scientific research for development world).  Thanks to the generosity of friends and acquaintances in the perfume business, I have been privileged enough to smell the raw materials that go into perfumes and learn about the role they play in both Western and Eastern perfumery.   Artisans have sent vials of the most precious materials on earth such as ambergris, deer musk, and oud.  But I have also spent thousands of my own money, buying oud oils directly from artisans and tons of dodgy (and possibly illegal) stuff on eBay.  In the reviews sections, I will always tell you where my sample came from and whether I paid for it or not.

 

Source of samples:  Most of the pure oud samples I am reviewing in these chapters were kindly provided to me free of charge by oud artisans and distillers, namely: Ensar Oud, Feel Oud, Al Shareef Oudh, Rising Phoenix Perfumery, Imperial Oud, and Kyara Zen. The Abdul Samad Al Qurashi samples were sent to me free of charge by a distributor.   

 

Note on monetization: My blog is not monetized.  But if you’d like to support my work or show appreciation for any of the content I put out, you can always buy me a coffee using the little buymeacoffee button.  Thank you! 

 

Cover Image: Photo of pure oud samples, photo my own (please do not use, circulate, or repost without my permission)

 

[1] Oud oils are pure essential oils (or ruhs), distilled directly from shards of agarwood loaded into a still. They have not been tempered, diluted, or mixed with any other material.

[2] Mukhallats are blends (mukhallat being the Arabic word for ‘blend’) of essential oils and other raw materials that were distilled or compounded elsewhere. Some of them include carrier oils and synthetics, while others do not (price is a factor). The mukhallat is a uniquely Middle Eastern form of perfumery, while the attar is a traditionally Indian one. Note that for most of the perfume-wearing world, the words ‘attar’ and ‘mukhallat’ are largely interchangeable (read about the actual differences here and here).

 

[3] The reviews of oudy CPOs will cover all of the (mostly Western takes on) perfume oils with a headlining oud note. Concentrated perfume oils are not attars or mukhallats, partially because of their construction but also because the objective of the whole exercise is different. Read how exactly here. People wear mukhallats for reasons of religion, culture, and tradition, while people wear perfume oils just to smell great or to tap into a specific image or fantasy.

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